A TURNKEY’S TRIBULATIONS, part 3 The Birdman.

Following on from last week’s post I wanted to keep the discussion about children and crime going. We are in the 21st century and still adults use children to commit crimes like some Dickensian Fagin. They manipulate them or at times force them to steal, whether it’s shop lifting, housebreaking or standing watch while adults commit crimes. Of course and rightly so, children, if charged receive a lesser sentence. Until the age of eight children are deemed to not have the mental reasoning to differentiate between right and wrong. Between eight and ten they can be held responsible for their actions and if they have committed murder for instance then the system may look at placing them under some control. After ten there is no excuse for not understanding the results of their actions, unless they have some mental impairment. Generally it is only those in their early teens who end up being institutionalised.

In my police work I came across cases where children were shoved through doggy doors, or tiny bathroom windows to enter houses and unlock doors, enabling the older offenders to gain entry. They were usually teenagers using their underage siblings, who of course would continue in the family tradition.  It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to realise that young children brought up in these circumstances will one day be adult offenders. It brings us to,

The Birdman, Mervyn John Thompson, was convicted in April 1965 for, as the judge put it, ‘A Most Bestial Killing.’ He murdered and raped 54-year-old widow, Vera Fearn the station mistress at Gailes railway station. At that time she lived in the railway house on site, the highway ran past it and the area wasn’t as populated as it is today. In the papers of the day Thompson, 26 was arrested in Parramatta, Sydney in Fearn’s car with some youths after a high-speed chase. He readily admitted that he killed her, and his brief stated, ‘he was a victim of his environment.’ In cases like this, that line was always thrown out by defence Barristers, I think it was a true statement. He was also found fit to plead guilty and was deemed to have a psychopathic personality. I don’t want to go into details about what happened to the poor woman, suffice to say that no one should endure what happened to her, alive or dead. The other interesting thing is it was always believed he had an accomplice over the weekend the crimes were committed.

Birdy as he was known had been in jail ten years by the time I started at the prison and a more sullen, uncommunicative, hulking brute you’d ever wish to see. He didn’t walk, he lumbered head pulled down into his shoulders, glaring at all and sundry.  He didn’t ‘play well with others’ and was given a job making concrete besser blocks in the area between the cell block and the bakery. He had his own little hut, cement mixer and implements and happily went about his work. At times other prisoners would be assigned to work with him when more blocks were needed. Nobody wanted anything to do with him, especially when they found out what he was in for. Now animals weren’t allowed inside prisons at the time, except for guard dogs. There was a stray cat (of the feline variety) that lived in the main store. Birdy was given permission to have a pet budgie. I’ll tell you now he was no Robert Stroud of Alcatraz fame, he kept Budge as he called him in a cage outside in the block yard. While he worked Budge would be hopping around on his shoulder, climbing on his head and pulling on the hairs that grew out of his ears.

Birdy rarely spoke and kept to himself, the only highlights in his life were a fortnightly visit from his elderly Mum and whenever he got a new packet of birdseed. Visiting days are special in jail, mainly on weekends in the afternoon. Between the end of lunch and one pm the showers worked overtime. The place hummed as prisoners tarted themselves up, ironed their best uniform then hung around waiting to be called. From the officer’s perspective it meant work, visits had to be overseen, prisoners had to be escorted back and forth to the visiting area, inside for inside workers and out in the open air for the others. Birdy’s Mum would turn up bang on time, a short, dumpy woman she carried the burden of her son’s transgressions. No matter the weather she would be there, white hair freshly permed, wearing thick glasses and  a winter coat. She always clutched her handbag to her chest and when she sat down at the long table opposite her son would put it in front of her.

Now you had to have eyes on stalks to keep up with the goings on, prisoners and visitors had to stay apart, they were allowed a quick hug and a kiss on arrival and departure. At the end of the visit the prisoners were searched prior to going back to the compound. If you suspected anything had been passed you could perform a strip search. Back to Birdy, within five minutes of his Mum sitting down it would be on. After he’d asked if she’d brought his coffee and Minties, she was into him. First the verbal abuse, her anger was a thing to behold and he’d sit there and try to interject. Then the physical abuse started, I don’t know if her handbag had been lead-lined but she wielded it like a hammer thrower, whack! whack! whack! over his head and shoulders. He’d wrap his arms around his head and dodge about half of them, that ones that landed must’ve hurt. This happened every visit, year after year. We’d let her get it off her chest then suggest she was upsetting the other visitors, after we became sick of hearing him call out, ‘No Mum,’ repeatedly.

I had no idea about his upbringing or Mum’s circumstances but I know one thing, she wasn’t happy with little Mervyn at all. As you would expect Birdy had been prescribed medication for whatever psychiatric disorder he suffered from. There was only one prison officer medic and he worked five shifts a week, so that left a lot of time for the prisoner medic to dispense medications. He was a trusty and always came across as a smart arse, I digress, pill parade was usually overseen by the Senior’s off-sider. The inmate would come up to the window: be identified get his drugs, put them in his mouth, swallow, open his mouth and leave. A lot of them also took Chloral Hydrate in liquid form to help them sleep.  Birdy had a plan, apparently he had been hiding his pills in his rather voluminous cheeks, then spat them out later and hid them in his cell.

The best laid plans of mice and men go astray, Birdy took his overdose the night we went out on strike. The shift walked off and local police came in, they took our word for the headcount and that they were all locked away. They removed themselves to the officer’s mess, cooked steak dinners and settled down for some late night TV. They found Birdy mid morning the following day, he was lying on the floor curled up dead. From what we could gather he took enough pills that when the first headcount was due, he would be found and transported to hospital. Bad luck Birdy, fate intervened and took you from your torment. The general consensus was this: Birdy’s co-offender who was never brought to trial had not long been released from the jail after serving a couple of years for other offences. It’s believed that they’d hatched a plan for Birdy to be taken to the hospital and then he would be sprung. Perhaps his death was for the better, at his sentencing the Judge stated that he never be released.

Nobody liked living in Birdy’s cell after that. He’d sweated profusely in his death throes and the salts in his sweat had soaked his outline into the concrete floor. It remained there for a long time, along with Birdy’s ghost. No matter what the air temperature the area inside and outside the cell stayed extremely cool. Late at night was always the worst, whenever we had a new officer start we’d send him up to walk along the landing. They always came back with the same story, ‘Bloody cold up there.’

Was Birdy born bad? Or did something or someone fail him in his early nurturing? Either way he committed his offences as an adult with free will, or was his mental state such that he was easily persuaded? He knows and can’t be asked, I however feel very sad about the demise of Vera Fearn. A woman working alone in a then isolated area, without a telephone. She’d approached her bosses to have them install one in her house but her fears were dismissed out of hand. Birdy had burgled the house that night, would Vera have been any safer with a telephone? As an aside I wonder about the budgie, did Birdy have an affinity with the creature? Did he take pleasure knowing that when he was locked away so was the bird? Was it a symbol of his incarceration? I think that Budge, after Birdy’s death was adopted by an officer.

Appendix: The term Cat when used in prison slang is the name given to prisoners who engage in homosexual activity.

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14 thoughts on “A TURNKEY’S TRIBULATIONS, part 3 The Birdman.

  1. laurie27wsmith Post author

    Thank you Merlin, I appreciate it. I think we have a couple of crossroads in our lives that may have to be ruminated on, the rest is what we do with the circumstances presented to us. Some people never seem to get a break and take their frustrations out on those weaker than themselves. Believe it or not I would liked to have been able to see what made Birdy tick. What they did to that poor woman doesn’t suddenly come to your mind on a whim. His upbringing would have been horrendous. I know full well it’s not an excuse but I have an urge to know why people do the things they do. What events occurred that put them into the paths of people who steered them. Birdy would have had the mental age of a 12 year old with the physical ability of a grown man. If you remember Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, then he was a darker version of Lennie.
    You’re right about the military merlin, it certainly throws you into a melting pot of characters. You might not like most of them but you’re all part of the same team. Recruit training was certainly a melting pot, talk about getting into shape.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

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  2. merlinfraser

    Another great Blog from a great writer. Like so many people I don’t believe people are born bad and while it is true that the circumstances of a persons upbringing has a tremendous bearing upon who they ultimately become it does not follow that that is the only influence in their lives.
    When I first joined military service it was my first experience of a wide variety of people from vastly different backgrounds to my own. We had all sorts from school bullies, swats, kids with zero confidence in themselves to cocky little ‘Gits’ like me. And yes, back then although we were all volunteers some had stories where a friendly policeman or local magistrate had suggested it was the military or…..

    The Service is a great leveller, as a raw recruit we were all treated as lesser forms of human life
    there to be moulded into something useful. After a few short weeks what a difference in attitude of all present. Sure there was a few who tried to buck the system, and as you know that was never going to work.

    You may not like all those who serve with you but there is a bond that grows between you, I remember getting the crap beat out of me joining in a bar fight trying to rescue a shipmate who I disliked intensely, but a shipmate is a shipmate and he dragged me out the back door just ahead of the shore patrol.

    So no I don’t believe our lives are written in stone, we are all responsible for how we live the decisions and choices we make as well as our actions and I have little time for those who stand behind a smart mouthed lawyer making excuses for their client.

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  3. bldodson

    Interesting what you say about kids. Mobbing was a technique used in Ethiopia when I was there, also a popular way to mug tourists in Brazil, although it never happened to me there.
    You’re pretty much screwed when 6 or 8 kids surround and bump up against you.

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  4. kelihasablog

    Excellent post Laurie…. Kids are born bad, cuz it’s a learned behavior, but though I got really angry with what he did, I can see how he was made into what he was and for that I’m sorry… I’m relatively sure he developed some type of mental illness along the way spurred on by his “treatment/training” by his mother, but she doesn’t sound like the type to care or even get/give him the proper meds. I know several Bi-polar people who stop their meds. cuz they think they’re fine… then they get in trouble. One killed his mother by accident. I really feel the sorriest for the woman who was raped and killed, and her family. Even though Birdy had a difficult life, she didn’t deserve to die that way. Another wonderful blog my friend. It’s alway like listening to a story. By the way… are any of your books sold on Nook by Barnes and Nobel? I have 2 Nooks and would love to read if they are there… Have a great weekend my friend! 😀

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks so much, you are right. When you look in a baby’s eyes you see nothing but wonder and innocence, what they become is put there by the people in their lives. Without doubt Birdy had a mental illness and as you say he wouldn’t have taken his meds, if he ever was on any as a child. He would’ve been born in 1940 and there wasn’t much in the way of medication for children. Other than the heavy drugs for people in lunatic asylums. It all comes down to the actions of the offender. I’m really sorry but my books are only on amazon kindle.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  5. salpa58

    Laurie, very well written piece. I have read the comments and your replys. The crime was horrific and my first thought was that of disgust and almost a fear of Birdie. I re-read it and thought, was he born like that? I don’t think any child is born a rapist and killer, Something(in my opinin only) had to happen to him for him to turn out that way. Birdie’s mother did not seem to me to be a loving, caring person. It almost felt like she was just continuing the abuse that he was used to receiving all of his life from her. What kind of upbringing did she have?
    I wondered if she was raised in an abusive home. It is a fact that behaviour is learned. The abused becomes the abuser, does it get worse with each new generation? Of course I felt horrified and angry at what he had done. I also agree with you about Vera not having a telephone, it might have saved her life, or at least given her a chance to be saved from the monster that invaded her home. Should her employer have been held partially responsible for her demise? Should Birdies mother be held partially responsible for her death? Was he born that way? If so why was it not realized when he was a young child so he could either be helped or put away where he would not be a danger to society.
    Or was it his up-bringing. Was his suicide his way of putting a stop to his own abuse and to break the life cycle that he endured, or possibly inherited? Did Birdie have any siblings, if so were they productive members of society? Where was his father in all of this?
    We were all born with free will, but was his destroyed from childhood, and replaced with such anger and hatred toward women? Birdie is dead, poor Vera is dead, but does the real killer still walk the streets?
    Does this throw a monkey wrench into the mix? The above is only my thoughts and opinions. Some might think I am cruel to think this way, or possibly just plain stupid, but can anyone answer my questions?

    Ciao
    Patricia

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      You are right Patricia, nobody is born that way. It is symptomatic of abuse and in many cases it is passed on. This blog certainly raises more questions than answers, all these lives culminating in the death of that poor woman. Maybe somewhere along the line if Birdy had been diagnosed with a mental illness or someone had intervened with the abuse he must have suffered, then…..? Would she have lived out her life in peace? It brings up a whole can of worms when you look at fate and karma. Could his father have helped or was he worse? No I don’t think you’re cruel to think this way Pat, these are the questions that should’ve been asked from the start and no, you are definitely not stupid. I look forward to our next conversation.
      Love from
      Laurie.

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  6. Raani York

    You know, Laurie… I had to read this story twice. I think that was because I felt emotionally confused after the first time… (And for some reason I can see you frowning… right?) I’ll tell you why:
    Yes, I know… “The Birdman” was a dangerous individual, a rapist and a murderer… but still: reading about him being isolated by others and being hit by his mother (who I REALLY feel bad for) right in front of the other inmates – and then committing suicide made me somehow all of a sudden feel bad for him.
    But then I got angry again thinking about what he had done.
    As for his “bad luck” in that “suicidal attempt to escape”… my Mom always says: “Everything happens for a reason”… Maybe that was it?
    This is actually one of those blog posts that you wrote I only sense a certain “neutrality” in your words. No emotional sidiing, whatsoever. That’s not bad, not at all… I’m only surprised, that’s all.

    This is, as all of your blog posts an excellently written one! You’re so talented!!!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Raani, I frowned 🙂 Just switch the offences around from how you’ve written them and you’ll understand my lack of emotion. At first glance with Birdy if you saw him in the street you would have feelings for this shunned individual. When you came near him his sense of menace was a palpable, living thing. The sad thing about his Mum was that she’d had a hand in bringing him up. I know that we can’t be held responsible for what an another adult does. But maybe, just maybe she knew what he was like. His actions from early childhood would’ve been world’s apart from other kids. He was probably quite cruel to animals and those smaller and weaker than himself, I could go on. Perhaps she had no choice in the matter of her life neither.

      There is no doubt in my mind that if the death penalty was still in at the time (abolished in Queensland in 1922) that he would have swung for his crimes. I think what he did happened for a reason, fate played a cruel trick on him. Go figure the night we go out on strike? I kept that neutrality Raani as I didn’t want to rant, or go on about what he had done in this public forum, out of respect for the victim’s relatives.
      Fear not, next week I will tickle your funny bone and cheeky sense of humour. Thanks again for your reply and for following my blog.
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  7. patgarcia

    Hi,
    My sympathies go out to the woman that was raped and killed. Reading your account of this man’s plight lets me know that she was brutally misused before she died and probably would have never recovered from the torture, if she had lived. To be honest with you, it reminds me of some of the scenes in Mountain of Death. It is shocking how brutal and cruel people can be. But I don’t believe it can be based only on the environment. There are too many people in the upper echelons of life who have a cruelty streak where they border on being mental cases. They are usually exposed after they have died. It is then when we hear about their excesses.

    You wrote a passage in your book Mountain of Death, where Fifi, the woman who betrayed Jack, was taken to Otto’s Villa and that night she was involuntarily stripped of her dignity. She was raped and sexually abused to the point that she passed over into the barrier where it actually became enjoyment and this broke her and took away her humanity. I believe that the psyche can only take so much before it crosses over into a nebulous realm where the bizarre becomes the desired reality. Thus as hard as it may seem, I am so happy that the woman did not live to experience the daylight of life again. Her salvation came when her spirit left her body, which had been abused, and I believe when that happened, she found at peace.

    As for the authorities, time and time again, we see the spirit of incompetence, greed and power, which causes people to put materialism before a human life. What they thought she didn’t need cost her to be the object of some men bizarre sexual longings and greed. The fact that people in decision making positions do not take a lot of their employees fears as serious is sickening. Whoever saw no need for her to have a telephone should have been brought to justice and made to stand for the crime committed.

    You have revealed many themes within this one article that are still themes today. They are problems that run through our societies and solutions have not been found. It is an ever living horror that is increasing and will increase until we turn back to the Creator of life. Your article cause me to think deeply about what you wrote.

    Ciao,
    Patricia

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Pat, She was badly used, and you know if you take the point of view about lessons and learning she must have had some heavy lessons to learn. What brought these two people together on that weekend? Perpetrator and victim, a brutish, damaged man and a helpless widow. I know what it’s like to be helpless and abused from a child’s perspective, so I have a tiny glimmer of what she must have went through. My only prayer is that she went not feeling the pain and indignation heaped upon her.
      Once again you are right, it does echo Mountain of Death. I believe that our subconscious weaves the words and scenes required from our past experiences, and filters them into our imagination. This forms the backbone of the written piece. With my character, Fifi I had no trouble writing that scene. Not because it was of a sexual nature, although I believe it was more about domination and cruelty with the sex act reinforcing the pain. Which leads on to the pleasure principal where there is an association between the two. A lot like Pavlov’s dogs, where he’d conditioned them with food, so that when a bell rang the dogs would salivate, expecting a meal. The same with Fifi, she went on to service the needs of anyone she was ordered to. Would the punishment have been worth the reward?
      I was ticked off when I read about the woman not having a phone there, (seems criminal when you are running a railway station). It was her isolation that was her downfall. I’m glad that I can make you think about what I write Pat, as always I value your judgements and your encouragement makes me want to write more.
      Love
      Laurie.

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